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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

L'Equipe vs. Lance
Payback:  How L'Equipe's editor-in-chief imagined targeting cycling's
biggest star in order to take down the sport
Text and photos by Pete Geyer for

Charly Tolipano, a French journalist based in Nice (home of Lance Armstrong when he lived in France), was trying to prove that the American with five victories (at the time) in the Tour de France was using the performance enhancing drug, erythropoietin (EPO).  Tolipano disliked everything about the American and the way he raced: his cold exterior, his obsession with just one race, the Tour, the way he crushed his opponents, his use of two-way radios to communicate with his "directeur sportif," the fact that he had a bodyguard wherever he went, even his use of bicycles made of carbon.  And on top of that, the rider was friends with President George Bush!

According to Tolipano, the American also "Cheats.  He lies.  And when that doesn't work, he intimidates."

Tolipano longed for the way the Tour used to be raced.  Modern cycling, with modern doping, had ruined his childhood dreams of Italian champions Coppi and Gimondi, and French champions Anquetil and Thévenet.  But he'd show them, he'd make them pay!  By bringing down modern cycling's biggest star, the entire sport would come crashing down with him!

"Them"?  Those responsible for the EPO era of the 1990s, the 1998 Festina Affair, all of it.

When Tolipano told a colleague, "I swore to myself I'd make them pay," his friend responded "That's called payback."

Charly Tolipano didn't live to see his dream of bringing cycling to its knees.  He didn't get to avenge the demise of his childhood dreams.

In fact, Charly Tolipano never even existed.  Not by that name anyway.  Tolipano is a character in a novel, "Dernier Tour" ("Last Tour," 2003), written by a man by the name of Michel Dalloni.

Who is Michel Dalloni?

Michel Dalloni is the editor-in-chief at the French sports daily, L'Equipe .  The man behind the August 23, 2005 allegations of doping against Lance Armstrong.

Front and back covers of Michel Dalloni novel
"Dernier Tour" ("Last Tour," 2003) by Michel Dalloni of L'Equipe

Michel Dalloni novel, page 52 extract
- "I swore to myself I'd make them pay for killing my dream..."
- "That's called payback."
(Michel Dalloni novel, page 52 extract)

Charly Tolipano as Michel Dalloni

Michel Dalloni went out of his way to create Charly Tolipano in his own image.  Tolipano is described in the novel as having been born in 1959, was raised by his maternal grandfather, studied law and political science, and wears his hair cut very short.  Dalloni was also born in 1959, dedicated the novel to his maternal grandfather, studied law and political science, and wears his hair cut very short.  Tolipano throughout the novel longs for the old days of racing.  Dalloni, as if to emphasize his own longing, has a map showing the Tour's very first route (in 1903) taped to the wall at eye level just to the right of the entrance to his office at L'Equipe .  Then there are the Italian names.  There is every reason to believe that Charly Tolipano is Michel Dalloni.  $100 says that Dalloni has a Bianchi bike or two in his garage.  Certainly not a Lance Armstrong signature Trek!

Tolipano's desire to take down the sport of cycling was personal.  I believe Dalloni, as editor-in-chief of L'Equipe, has used Armstrong in an attempt to bring cycling to its knees.  I also believe it is, in part, personal.

Michel Dalloni novel, page 20 extract
- "Look, Steve Harrison, five victories in the Tour, set for a sixth..."
(page 20 extract)

Steve Harrison as Lance Armstrong

Dalloni of course wasn't about to have Charly Tolipano go after Lance Armstrong.  He chose the name "Steve Harrison" for the American five-time, soon to be six-time, winner of the Tour de France.  He did this perhaps in part for legal reasons, though changing names doesn't guarantee you'll avoid legal trouble if it is obvious, as it certainly is in the case of Dalloni's novel, which real-world individual your character represents.  Dalloni appears to attempt to build in extra protection for himself by actually mentioning, in passing, a "Lance Armstrong" as a past champion.  But there can be no mistake; in the novel the character representing Dalloni himself, Charly Tolipano, hopes to bring down the sport by going after the man who in Dalloni's mind represents Lance Armstrong.

Michel Dalloni novel, page 136 extract
"Steve Harrison, who in competition wore an earphone
similar to those of his bodyguards"
(page 136 extract)

Michel Dalloni novel, page 42 extract
- "When Harrison falls, the entire system will collapse, predicted Charly Tolipano."
(page 42 extract)

Michel Dalloni novel, page 50 extract
- "That's odd, we haven't seen Winners Factory.  Where are they riding?"
- "They're using home trainers in a pharmacy." (Tolipano)
(page 50 extract)

Winners Factory team as the USPS Pro Cycling Team

Steve Harrison rides for the American team, Winners Factory.  Michel Dalloni selected San Francisco as the team's headquarters.  San Francisco was the headquarters of the real-life USPS Pro Cycling Team.  (The team owner and management company, first Montgomery Sports, Inc., then Tailwind Sports, were based in San Francisco.)  Winners Factory is owned by the successful and wealthy San Francisco businessman, Ted Vassalo.  (Vassalo no doubt plays the part of Tailwind Sports owner and San Francisco businessman Thom Weisel.)  The Vassalos wear Rolex Daytona watches.  (Longtime Armstrong foe David Walsh also brought up the subject of Rolexes; a section of his book, "L.A. Confidential," is titled "Le Ritz et la Rolex."  The Rolex is of course a sign of wealth.)

It is often said that the French distrust success and successful people.  So of course Dalloni very deliberately portrays Steve Harrison, Ted Vassalo and Winners Factory as successful and wealthy.  But no attempt to manipulate French readers would be complete without bringing George Bush into the picture; Steve Harrison is a personal friend of President George Bush III!  Dalloni wants his readers to dislike, even despise, Steve Harrison.  (Dalloni and L'Equipe, Inc. have repeatedly made a point of linking Armstrong to Bush (even bringing up the subject of the war in Iraq), with predictable reaction from French readers.  More on that later.)

Michel Dalloni novel, page 172 extract
- "...Steve Harrison, who is a personal friend of
President George Bush III"
(page 172 extract)

The end of Charly Tolipano

Michel Dalloni considers himself a victim, both because of his childhood dreams ruined by the Festina Affair and because as a journalist he doesn't feel he can believe in the performances of today's pro cyclists.  On the latter point it is hard to disagree with him given the recent "Operation Puerto" and Floyd Landis Affairs, though the Landis case has yet to even be dealt with by U.S. anti-doping authorities. (Landis' attorney Howard Jacobs just yesterday filed a motion with the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to have the case thrown out. -ed.)  

Nowhere is it more clear that Dalloni considers himself a victim than the fate he reserves for his story's hero, Charly Tolipano.  Recall that Tolipano (Dalloni) is trying to prove that Steve Harrison (Lance Armstrong) is using EPO.  When Tolipano comes across evidence in the form of a notebook with the initials TVBO (Tolipano assumes that refers to Steve Harrison, "The Very Best One") on it and associated with the administering of EPO, he is murdered on the eve of publishing his story, just before the start of the Tour de France....with an overdose of EPO!  (An autopsy reveals his hematocrit to be at 78%, well beyond the 50% limit set by the Union Cycliste Internationale.)  Thus the novel's title, "Last Tour" was Charly's last Tour, though he'd already decided it would be his last Tour anyway, such was his disillusionment with the sport.

End of part one.  Later this week: In part two, more about the novel (including who else is portrayed; for fun, we'll give readers a chance to guess the identities of some of them), what L'Equipe is really after, and much more...

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